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Arrests spook Myanmar condo buyers shifting wealth to Thailand

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Efforts by the military regime in Myanmar to halt the flight of war-weary citizens’ remaining wealth could cut into the real estate market of neighboring Thailand, where Myanmar nationals have climbed the ranks of top condominium buyers.

Regime authorities arrested six people in Myanmar last week for dealing in real estate in Thailand and opening bank accounts abroad without the central bank’s permission, according to state media. The accused are three directors of Min Thu Company, a Yangon-based real estate firm selling high-end condominiums, and three clients who purchased units at a sales event.

The arrests came as the kyat dropped to 5,000 per dollar at the end of May, retaining only 25% of the value it held in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 military takeover.

As intensified hostilities between the regime and resistance groups enter a third year, Myanmar nationals scooped up 2.2 billion baht ($60 million) worth of condominiums in Thailand in the first quarter alone, second only to Chinese buyers. It resulted in a jump in Myanmar’s share of condo purchases in the kingdom to 13.4% in the quarter, more than doubling from 5.4% in 2023.

Condo purchases by Myanmar nationals totaled 3.7 billion baht in 2023, in third place behind Chinese and Russians.

The kyat collapsed as the regime printed new money and hoarded foreign currency to finance military spending. The devalued currency is rarely used inside the country, with the Asian Development Bank forecasting that inflation in Myanmar will hit 15.5% in 2024 while its economy will grow by only 1.2%.
Attempting to prop up the kyat, the regime has forced conversions of foreign currency accounts, private company earnings and worker remittances, and asked the private sector in May to return to barter trade.

“There is no such thing as being safe even when you are abiding by their rules and laws. Additionally, the banks are basically zombies now,” said Ma Sandar, a Myanmar marketing executive living in Thailand for two years.

“If you at least own a property overseas, it is a safer bet.” Condos held by Myanmar nationals in ThailandΒ can be occupied by the owners, sit empty or be rented out.

Bangkok is the most popular destination for escaped Myanmar individuals’ wealth, with condo sales amounting to 3.3 billion baht in 2023. The southern island of Phuket is a distant second at 121 million baht. Source: Nikkei Asia

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